Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship 2020/2021 Year in Review


Each June, after the buzz of spring semester subsides and the relative quiet of summer on campus begins, I sit down to reflect on the past year and plan for the next one. This time, my head is spinning as I attempt to process what just happened and what should happen next. “Unprecedented times” for sure!

In 2020/2021, Patricelli Center programs carried on as normally as possible despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes were hybrid to allow for students studying remotely or quarantining, and in-person sessions followed careful masking and distancing protocols. Nevertheless, students were as driven as ever – or maybe even more so – to understand social and environmental problems and seek pathways to have impact. True to its mission, the Patricelli Center worked to support these students.

To me, the epic themes of 2020/2021 – the pandemic, US presidential election, Black Lives Matter movement, immigration policy changes, and more – are a call to action for higher education. They loom in front of faculty and administrators, begging us to climb down from our ivory towers and engage with the messy but beautiful world around us. Teaching critical thinking is no longer enough; now is the time for us to teach entrepreneurial thinking, to empower students to design and craft the future. Moreover, we need to acknowledge the university’s role and responsibility as an anchor institution, and find new ways to leverage our wealth and power for the greater good.

I seek ways to advance this agenda wherever I can. In addition to teaching classes and running programs in which students actively convert theory to practice and engage with the world outside of Wesleyan, I serve on several committees that have the potential to move the institution in this direction. Wesleyan clearly has the will and expertise to be a leader in teaching ethical civic engagement and strategic civic action, and the Patricelli Center can play a central role in living up to that ambition.


In his inaugural address on September 21, 1831, Wesleyan’s first President Willbur Fisk said “Education should be directed with reference to two objects—the good of the individual, and the good of the world.” Today, the University’s mission is to provide “an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.” These foundations inform and inspire the work of the Patricelli Center, which teaches the theory and practice of social change and entrepreneurship to Wesleyan undergraduates from all classes and majors.

Now entering our eleventh year, the Patricelli Center is a well-established fixture not just at Wesleyan, but also among our peer institutions. Based on student demand and pedagogical potential, increasing numbers of colleges and universities are offering social entrepreneurship programming. The Patricelli Center provides a successful model that combines academic and co-curricular programs, an array of project-based learning opportunities, and the rigor that characterizes a Wesleyan education. 

Through their work with the Patricelli Center, our students develop:

  • Problem-solving mindsets and skillsets
  • Creative confidence and competence
  • Comfort with ambiguity
CSPL262 students participating in class via Zoom

Some classes were offered virtually to accommodate students studying remotely or quarantining. There were some benefits to the online format, including making it easy to bring in guest speakers from around the world.

To teach and instill these traits, in 2020/2021 the Patricelli Center offered a variety of programs with varying levels of breadth and depth:

  • a 1-semester Startup Incubator course (fall and spring)
  • a 1-semester social entrepreneurship course called the Patricelli Center Fellowship (fall and spring)
  • a 1-semester, for-credit, semi-independent study program called Engaged Projects
  • a 0.5-credit System Mapping course (spring only) and participation in the Map The System global challenge
  • five types of grants
  • participation in regional collegiate entrepreneurship events
  • mentorship and coaching by faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners

Other PCSE offerings such as Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), the nonprofit board residency course, student workspace on campus, and free access to a Middletown co-working facility were on hold due to the pandemic.

Patricelli Center programs are made possible by our generous donors, including Propel Capital, Newman’s Own Foundation, the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation, the Norman Ernst Priebatsch Endowed Fund for Entrepreneurship, and CTNext.


In the ten years since it was founded, the Center has awarded a total of $454,600 in grants to 201 students or student-led projects. This year specifically, we awarded $61,100 to 17 grantees.

  • three $5,000 seed grants (which fund the launch or early-stage growth of a project or venture) plus one special $5,000 scale grant (for a venture that did not qualify for the seed grant)
  • seven $2,500-5,000 internship grants (which fund an unpaid or low-paid summer experience)
  • one $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant (which funds a student-led summer project designed to promote peace or address root causes of conflict)
  • five $200 micro-grants for student artists and creatives who intend to monetize their products and services

After a year-long hiatus in 2019/2020, the Patricelli Center Fellowship course resumed, this time as a one-semester course instead of two. We had 18 Fellows in the fall and 14 Fellows in the spring. Although this is a social entrepreneurship class, Fellows are not expected to actually launch a venture. Instead, the focus is on studying social and environmental problems, understanding their existing solutions landscapes, then finally envisioning and simulating the creation of a new “solution.” Bryan Do ’24 explained what that learning experience was like for him:  

“There were two goals that I set out to achieve at the start of the Fellowship: to deepen my understanding of the problem of education inequality in Vietnam and to figure out a game-changing solution. For the first goal, the course’s content pushed me above and beyond, Not only did I study the numerous causes of the problem, I got to learn different tools to untangle the messy underlying systems behind those causes, with complex stakeholders and feedback loops. Yet, I could not achieve the second goal. The more complex I realize the problem is, the more inclined I am to find a solution that is feasible for a student like me to do. I ended up designing a venture that aims to supplement, not fundamentally change the education system in Vietnam.”

For students who want to build and launch an idea, the Patricelli Center also continued to offer the Startup Incubator course with 9 students in the fall and 17 students in the spring. Ventures included:

  • Wondri (Lucas White ’21) There’s no good place to talk about books online. Wondri is striving to change that by offering an online space where readers and thinkers can connect with one another by exploring favorite books, authors, and related topics.
  • Hearth Creative Co (Samara Nelida Zepeda ’23) My mission is to provide every client with a beautiful, long-lasting product that is created with eco-conscious practices and materials.
  • MediTracker (Nabeel Kemal ’23) The MediTracker is a wearable tech device with a QR code attached to it that, when scanned by an EMT or Paramedic, brings up the holder’s important Medical Information.

Rounding out the Patricelli Center’s academic offerings was a new course called Engaged Projects, a semi-independent educational endeavor that empowers students to study a topic of their choice and produce a final product for a public (not academic) audience. The 45 students who enrolled this year reflected on what made the learning experience unique for them:

  • figuring out whether I am even asking the right research questions… going back and forth to double check my previous premises and assumptions…
  • learning to rely on others for resources
  • the ability to handle constructive criticism
  • I’ve learned that when I am putting off working on my project it’s because of this insecurity and I need to force myself to talk to other people and just begin working on it rather than letting myself get overwhelmed and intimidated
  • I learned that time management for project timelines cannot be underestimated
  • I have learned how valuable other people’s opinions are and how helpful it is to go out of my comfort zone to share my thoughts and ideas
  • I am really starting to take ownership over my work

Patricelli Center director Makaela Kingsley ’98 was appointed to an Economic Recovery & Workforce Development Working Group convened by FEMA and the State of Connecticut. This group, comprised of representatives from colleges and universities across the state, recognizes that institutions of higher education play a critical role in the state’s economy and will be important to the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Makaela also continues to serve on CTNext’s Higher Education Initiative advisory committee and as a guest speaker for programs such as the MEWS+ accelerator and Connecticut College’s Fast Forward program.

Dozens of alumni, faculty, and local partners volunteered as guest speakers, mentors, pitch coaches, and grant judges in 2020/2021. Special thanks to Frank LaMonaca ’79 for coordinating connections with mentors from SCORE of Southeastern Connecticut. Monthly updates for volunteers are shared on the ENGAGE blog.

Patricelli Center students received a variety of external recognition, including:

  • Posse Scholar Gabriel Mirelez ’23 won $2,000 in the Connecticut Collegiate Business Plan Competition for his startup, Vethos Technologies, which develops technological solutions for the emergency response sector that are rugged, configurable, and affordable.
  • Alissa Dobrinsky ’21, founder of the dating app LOL, and Sophie Scobell ’22, co-founder of Traid University, were invited to the Connecticut Collegiate Business Plan Competition’s elevator pitch finals.
  • Aldrean Alogon ’23 was selected for the Map The System global finals for his research on education inequality in rural Philippines. Unlike most social impact competitions which reward students for creating new projects or ventures, Map The System challenges participants to research social or environmental problems and study the current solutions landscape, including the power dynamics of stakeholders.
  • Emily McEvoy ’22 was named a 2021/2022 Newman Civic Fellow. The Newman Civic Fellowship recognizes community-committed students who are changemakers and public problem-solvers at Campus Compact member institutions. Fellows are nominated by their president on the basis of their potential for public leadership.

The PCSE hosted four virtual meetups for alumni entrepreneurs and changemakers, featuring conversations between Lexy Funk ‘91 and Kwaku Akoi ’14, Tricia Homer ’03 and AJ Wilson ’18, Pradeep Khurana ’91 and Arshad Chowdhury ’98, and David Jay ‘04 and Sadasia McCutchen ’17. 


Nimra Karamat '23 pitching her social venture, Infinitely

On April 2, six finalists pitched their social ventures. Infinitely, founded by Nimra Karamat ’23 and Ashley Cardenas ’23, was one of three to receive a $5,000 PCSE Seed Grant.

Three $5,000 Seed Grants were awarded to fund the launch or early-stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected project, program, or venture. For the seventh consecutive year, this grant was administered in a competition format, and winners were selected from a strong pool of finalists who pitched live to an audience of judges and guests. Applicants were assessed on their project design, leadership qualities, and potential for social impact. The 2021 Seed Grant recipients are:

  • Infinitely: Doing Good While We’re Here (Nimra Karamat ’23 and Ashley Cardenas ’23) Looking at the current state that our world is in right now, the global climate is at its highest point with fast fashion as one of the primary contributors. With trends changing every month, the rate of consumption ascends for the necessity to purchase the “newest style” while throwing out thousands of clothing. With Infinitely, we are offering products that are made in an eco-friendly fashion.
  • Long Lane Farm (Elam Grekin ’22 and Franny Lin ’21) Since its founding in 2003, Long Lane Farm has worked towards a model of food sovereignty, in which all people not only have access to affordable, healthy meals, but also have a say in how their food is produced. Following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic to both the Farm and our communities, we will look ahead, strengthen and expand our role in the community, and shore up our strategies for the future.
  • Newark Water Association (Vincent Henrich ’23) Newark Water Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit designed to provide the community of Newark, New Jersey with access to clean, safe, and free water.

Naomi Chepngeno Chesengeny ’24 was selected to receive a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace Grant for her summer 2021 initiative, the Tujikaze Project. Tujikaze, Swahili for “let’s strive,” is a weeklong mentorship and education program for young female athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds in Rift Valley, Kenya. The project selects young women in grades 10 and 11 based on financial need, academic ability, and leadership potential and encourages them to succeed for themselves and for their communities. The central aim of Tujikaze is to support the holistic well-being of the selected students by providing opportunities for physical exercise, leadership training, and discussions around mental, sexual, and reproductive health. While in the program, Tujikaze mentees will be able to learn from experts, community leaders, and fellow mentees.

Seven students received summer grants from the Patricelli Center to pursue internships or entrepreneurial projects:

  • Caser Castro-Rubio (Norman Ernst Priebatsch Fund for Entrepreneurship grant) and Manuel Dominguez (Jessica & Josh Goldin ACG grant) will build a small-scale aquaponics farm in Texas. They want this summer experience to be a catalyst for other profit-generating sustainability projects they will launch in the future.
  • Asher Leeming (Norman Ernst Priebatsch Fund for Entrepreneurship grant) will spend the summer building his own environmental sustainability brand. His first product is a sleek, sustainable and wearable trash holder that will allow people to conveniently and securely dispose of trash found while surfing, hiking, or participating in other outdoor activities.
  • Hannah Coyle (Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship grant) has begun a research project for the Wesleyan Doula Project, a collective of undergraduates who provide pro-bono abortion doula care in New Haven and Hartford clinics.
  • Cilicia Payne (McCarthy Family Foundation grant) is a Production Assistant Internship for Rorshok, a new purpose-driven venture founded by Mark Mullen ’89. Rorshok will create story-based narrative non-fiction podcasts designed to share and discuss news in the English language for American expatriates living abroad.
  • Simi Dalyop (McCarthy Family Foundation grant) is working with Rayah Power Integration, a non-profit clean energy company in Massachusetts, as a summer intern. In addition to other duties, she will build Pollinator Friendly Solar Farms in the towns of Spencer, Worcester, Millbury, and Auburn.
  • Kekeli Logoh (Jessica & Josh Goldin ACG grant) will launch an online marketplace called “Every Little Thing” that introduces consumers to handy gadgets that will enhance their lives. Through drop shipping, Kekeli’s site will be able to sell items without needing to handle any merchandise or delivery.

Finally, the Patricelli Center supported other entrepreneurial groups across campus through sponsorships to WesHack, Fray Magazine, and others.


In 2020/2021, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship offered three faculty-taught courses through the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life:

  • CSPL239 Startup Incubator: The Art and Science of Launching Your Idea (1.0 credit, fall and spring)
  • CSPL262 Patricelli Center Fellowship (1.0 credit, fall and spring)
  • CSPL/CGST480 Engaged Projects (1.0 credit, fall and spring)
Systems Map depicting the causes of education inequity in rural Philippines

In the student forum “Systems Mapping for Social and Environmental Change,” taught by Sarah Ardhani ’23 and Akansha Singh ’23, students study the complex and interrelated causes of ‘wicked problems’ and attempt to diagram them in a systems map

The PCSE also sponsored independent studies, senior capstones, and two student forums (student-taught classes)

  • System Mapping for Social and Environmental Change (0.5 credit, 3rd quarter)
  • Leadership and Legacy: Exploring Your Leadership Style and Potential (0.5 credit, 3rd quarter)


It is important to note that the Patricelli Center works closely with numerous on- and off-campus partners to cultivate the social entrepreneurship ecosystem at Wesleyan. On-campus partners include:

  • The Patricelli Center, Jewett Center for Community Partnerships (JCCP), Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life (CSPL), Sustainability Office, Service-Learning, and Civic Engagement Minor collaborate as a hub of civic engagement theory, research, experience, and practice. We are all housed together in Allbritton Hall in the heart of campus.
  • Academic programs such as IDEAS, Education Studies, and QAC are natural feeders for the Patricelli Center.
  • The Gordon Career Center’s job and internship databases, resume service, and workshops complement PCSE programs.
  • Impact-driven and entrepreneurial student groups on campus offer leadership opportunities.

Alumni volunteers provide invaluable advice and support for the Center. Special thanks go out to the alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends who served as presenters, mentors, and grant judges in 2020/2021.

Local partners include Tsai CITY at Yale, reSET, The Entrepreneurship Foundation, the MEWS+, and the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges. 

Social entrepreneurship colleagues from other higher education institutions come together through forums like AshokaU Exchange and the Social Impact Educators listserve to share ideas and resources.

In a normal year, more than 100 students and colleagues have 24/7 ID-card access to the PCSE Board Room. This space is a hub of social innovation on campus, used for idea and venture incubation, service-learning course TA sessions, peer advising, and more. Although the pandemic limited our use of this space in 2020/2021, we look forward to ramping up activity next year.

2021/2022 PREVIEW

Makaela Kingsley and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

When we look back at 2020/2021, we will all remember masked faces, Zoom screens, and ubiquitous phrases like “you’re on mute” and “flatten the curve.” Let’s hope those are a thing of the past. Here’s to a brighter year ahead!

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship teaches problem-solving mindsets and skillsets, creative confidence and competence, and the ability to navigate ambiguity. As our students faced a once-in-a-century pandemic and a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement simultaneously, it has been abundantly clear that these competencies are more important than ever.

This coming academic year, we will return to pre-covid levels of activity. We will offer the Patricelli Center Fellowship, the Startup Incubator, Engaged Projects, Map The System, Clinton Global Initiative University, Seed Grants, Internship Grants, the Davis Projects for Peace Grant, advising, mentorship, and workspace. We will also bring back the Nonprofit Board Residency (offered through the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships with a new name: Community Impact Residency) and launch a new microgrant fund for student makers and entrepreneurs. Lastly, we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Patricelli Center’s founding during Homecoming/Family Weekend in October.

Fully in-person classes, without masks and distancing, will allow students to build stronger relationships and camaraderie. Live pitch events will harness the infectious energy of Wesleyan social entrepreneurs. Serendipitous meetings in the Patricelli Center will lead to unexpected partnerships and collaborations.

We will also keep some of the new strategies we learned during the pandemic. In particular, although the Patricelli Center had always conducted some business via video, we are now more adept at using it effectively to support student learning outcomes.

In all of our work — whether real or virtual, for-credit or co-curricular, faculty-led or student-led — we will be guided by an ethos of “fearless experimentation.” We will create opportunities for students to test their hypotheses about social change in lean, intentional, and ethical ways. This approach will enhance student learning, apply knowledge from the classroom in real-world settings, normalize failure and growth mindset, and – in the best cases – create lasting social impact.